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The best national parks in Utah
Utah sits well-deservedly near the top of the United States’ best-dressed list for nature. The best national parks in Utah are some of the most popular names in hiking, biking, and camping. If you’re feeling less outdoorsy, enjoy prime sightseeing from the comfort of your air-conditioned (or heated!) vehicle.
What are the Big 5 National Parks in Utah?
- Capitol Reef
- Bryce Canyon.
The best National Parks in Utah are also known as “The Mighty 5”.
Arches National Park is best known — of course — for its many natural rock archways while Zion is famous for its stunning hikes in The Narrows and to Angels Landing.
Ready to see it all? We’ve figured out the ultimate 5-10 day road trip itinerary in Utah.
Not ready to leave the house? Discover the great outdoors from the comfort of your own home.
Are national parks in Utah open during Covid-19?
As of July 25, all of the best National Parks in Utah are open. However, services and activities may be limited due to COVID-19 protocols. This includes closed visitor center exhibits. Instead of indoor information desks at many parks, park rangers are providing assistance on the front patio to help with trip planning for visitors.
Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Four Corners are currently closed.
Important to note: Masks are currently mandated in certain areas of Utah including in Salt Lake County, Summit County (Park City), Grand County (Moab), and in Springdale, the gateway town to Zion National Park.
1. Zion National Park
Let’s start with arguably the best national park in Utah and the object of so many first-time Utah-visitors’ affection: Zion. Out-of-towners gush over the melting shades of red on the sandstone cliffs in this National Park that feels a bit like you crash-landed on Mars.
You’re spoilt for options in Zion, and can’t go wrong with any choice of activity.
Make sure to start early (like 4 a.m. early!) in the morning if you’re looking to conquer Angels Landing and/or The Narrows. These are Zion’s most popular attractions and tend to get more crowded as the day goes on. Scared of heights? The final ascent at Angels Landing is not for the faint of heart. At the end of this grueling hike, you’ll edge along narrow cliffs with a 1500 foot drop on your other side. The majority of the hike is tough, but not death-defying; the chain ascent is only the last 10 minutes or so.
*Note: The final chain section is currently closed due to Covid-19.*
If visiting Zion, make sure to buy shuttle passes online the day before your visit. See here for a Zion National Park guide to help you plan your trip.
2. Arches National Park
Don’t let the names fool you. While the dainty Delicate Arch is beautiful, Landscape Arch holds just as much grace and is also the longest arch on the North American continent.
Many visitors like to hike the Delicate Arch Trail in the morning followed by Devil’s Garden Loop.
Double Arch, Broken Arch, and Sand Dune Arch the other must-hit arches in this whimsical park. If you have the stamina, both the sunrises and the sunsets in Arches are once-in-a-lifetime experiences.
Learn more about Arches in this detailed guide.
3. Bryce Canyon
Of the best National Parks in Utah, Bryce Canyon is the place to go for hoodoos. What’s a hoodoo, you ask? Hoodoos – or fairy chimneys – are tall, skinny rock spires and you’ll find more of these otherworldly rock features in Bryce Canyon than almost anywhere else on Earth.
If you get there early, start at Sunrise Point and enjoy the views over the Bryce Amphitheater.
Hikers will want to start on Queen’s Garden Trail which connects to Navajo Loop (and don’t skip the Wall Street Path branching off from here!). Hikers and non-hikers alike will want to do the 18-mile car journey with plenty of stop-off photo opportunities at the many amazing canyons and vistas.
Discover more with this guide to Bryce Canyon.
4. Capitol Reef
Capitol Reef is one of the lesser-known (but still one of the best) National Parks in Utah and is full of some of the most unique natural attractions.
Hikers have great options in Capitol Reef. Cassidy Arch is a moderately difficult 3.4-mile hike or you can start early and head to Navajo Knobs, a more strenuous 7-hour hike.
Solitude seekers (with a 4×4 vehicle) will find their bliss in Cathedral Valley. The park was named for its eroded sandstone shapes reminiscent of intricate Gothic cathedrals. Within Cathedral Valley you’ll find plenty of unique sites. A glimmering mound of selenite crystals called Glass Mountain, a massive sinkhole, and nature-painted hills are among the other top sites in the valley.
5. Canyonlands National Park
Into buttes? Canyonlands is full of them. French for “mound”, these narrow, jutting rock formations dramatically break up the sweeping vistas in Canyonlands. Mesa Arch trail is a great hike for beginners and leads you to one of the most iconic vistas in all of Utah’s parks (see the image below!).
The Colorado and Green rivers carve paths through the landscape where you’ll also find Native American rock art and dinosaur tracks amongst this park’s hidden treasures.
Be sure not to miss the Needles District in Canyonlands and it’s quirky Pothole Point and Cave Spring. The variety of awe-inducing attractions in Canyonlands makes it one of the best National Parks in Utah.
Find more info on how to visit Canyonlands here.
Ready to get your Mighty Five exploration on? Search flights now to either Salt Lake City or Las Vegas.👇
Both airports make great starting points for adventures to the best National Parks in Utah. Depending on which parks you want to visit, one airport might make more sense for you.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Zion National Park is the closest to Las Vegas. It’s only 165 miles to the northeast.
There are 5 National Parks in Utah, known frequently as the ‘Mighty Five’. Other attractions include National Monuments like Hovenweep and Dinosaur.
There are many different types of lodging depending on which national park you decide to visit. Moab is one of the closest towns to Zion, Arches, and Bryce. Generally, visitors can stay in hotels or camp under the stars in a tent or RV.
Discover where else you can go:
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